Forty

And just like that, I turned 40.  Just like that, as gentle as the moment a leaf decides to drop from the tree that’s been holding onto it since the bud break of spring, I advanced another year in my life, to a new cycle around the sun, and to a new decade of my time on this planet.

The moments leading up to this fat number, one with a trailing zero, have been fraught with worry and concern about meeting goals I had set for myself.  Let me rephrase that – arbitrary goals that I’d set for myself based on external expectations I’d gotten for what “being 40” really meant.  Turns out, most of those benchmarks, those tic boxes, were horse shit.  It also turns out that, in fact, I hadn’t really considered all that turning forty might even mean.

Ray also has had a recent birthday, on September 24th, which I have to keep writing down in order to emblazon it into my memory.  It’s a strange block of thought that I can’t keep that number set in my mind, but I think, maybe, I’ve finally nailed it.  Maybe.  No promises.  In any regard, I took him on an adventure a couple of weekends ago that celebrated our birthdays at once.  It was a massive five-day excursion into the east, where we ended up at the Gorge Amphitheater to see Above & Beyond, a DJ group that we both thoroughly enjoy.  It also included a couple of overnights in spots along the way, including a wonderful AirBnB rental at a ranch on a mountain in Ellensburg, Washington – a town we’ve both grown fond of for it’s location and geography.  On the road east, we also stopped to enjoy a bit of wine tasting, and took plenty of photos along the way.  The jeep was definitely up to the task, thankfully, as I’ve had the clutch replaced along with a fresh oil change and differential service done on it.  We were able to enjoy taking the top down for most of the journey, and Ray really got to relax in the passenger seat – something he desperately needed after weeks of being on the run between his new job at the vineyard and the wine bar job and home.  The poor guy was way overdue for some time off, and it was my utter pleasure to bring that to him.

It was there, at that show, after a few glasses of wine, and taking in yet another gorgeous sunset among the other show-goers, that I had a bit of an epiphany.  It’s a bit crude, but truly apt:  Fuck it.

I mean it.  Fuck it.

I have spent most of my life worried about the thoughts and concerns of others, either as the sift out their own lives, or make judgements about the way I live mine.  I have let these pressures from the outside effect how I feel about myself on the inside.  I have allowed myself to push my body to extremes in order to fit in with the “it” people.  I’ve used self-loathing to direct my decisions and posture and presence among any and everyone I come into contact with.  I’ve kept my life compartmentalized in such a way as to limit exposure and vulnerability.  I have also always kept the concerns and worries and judgments of others in the foreground as I struggle to draft the story of my life, as though my single and solitary thoughts on any experience shared with any of them was something invalid or less-than.

There are so many moments where my own fear of rejection, especially when my acceptance has been built upon a fragile definition of self –  one that has invoked chameleon-like powers in order to hide and blend – has gotten in the way of me being authentic, and thus unable to make a deeper connection to another.  I regret these moments.  I regret the ease of shape-shifting for others.  I regret how easy it is to cast off these connections now, as they were never built on anything lasting.  Add in the frivolity of social media and the loose definition of “Friendship” these days, and, well, I’m left with a few key connections but only just.  I know hundreds of people, but I can still count on one hand those who I would consider close.  I regret that.

 

Now, though, as I have sauntered over the threshold of a new decade, I have embraced a new mantra.  Rather than change and become something else, instead, I find myself looking in the mirror and saying, “Fuck it.”

Fuck it.  Fuck what they think.  Fuck what they said.  Fuck what those horrible voices in my head keep chiding me for.  Fuck them for dismissing me, for not bothering, for disrespecting me. Fuck it.  I have better things, brighter things, more enriching paths to wander and explore.  I have given my heart to a man who, continuously, exposes me to the true nature of love and vulnerability and emotional connection.  I have my vehicle, something obnoxious and totally unnecessary, but which carries me out and away from the urbanity that strives to stifle and choke me.  Now, I also have a dog.

Fuck it.  I own a dog.

Rather, we own a dog.  His name is Steinbeck, though he doesn’t really know it yet.  He’s a massive Labrador-mix (we think possibly Dane or Mastiff), with an exceptionally patient soul.  He is a bit stubborn, excitable around small furry critters (including our cat, of course), but generally tries to do a good job.  He takes to his crate with little fuss, and only whines a little when we leave him alone.  He’s really thin, coming in at 70 pounds but with ribs and hips popping out all over the place.  He’s got a bit of a cough we are watching, as well, but that I think he’ll pull through without much concern.  He’s goofy and constantly giving me that “don’t leave me” look as a shelter dog learns to do.  As a second-chance rescue from Oklahoma, he’s been in shelters for a while, and then in a plane, and then under the knife for a vasectomy, and now adopted and re-homed all over the last month.  The fact he’s not more neurotic by all of this is a testament to his angelic nature.  I’m gushing over my dog, and while I want to care, I don’t.  He’s my first dog since I was a kid, and right now, he’s totally stolen my heart. So, I’ll gush a bit more.

Raymond, though all of this transition with me, has proven even more just how wonderful of a man he is.  He is overwhelmed by the dog, to be honest, because, well, he’s overwhelmed by a lot right now.  He’s not sure he can sufficiently take care of another beast, even though he’s not alone in the care of the critters.  We left the house last night, off to visit with a former coworker of his, and all day long, he was fretting about Steinbeck and his crate and would he whine and worry while we were gone.  Would he just howl and bark and be obnoxious to our neighbors?  Would he hurt himself?  Well, we did a little test, kind of unexpectedly.  Ray was in the bedroom laying down with the cat, and I decided to take off and get more dog food and stuff for Steinbeck to have while we were out of the house at work.  It wasn’t a big deal, the dog was resting in his crate peacefully, door closed.  Well, apparently, as soon as I left, he barked.

“Tell me when he settles down and don’t go check on him,” I texted to Ray.  We needed to see how he’d behave.  It was a good test run.

“Ok,” Ray replied, though I knew it was killing him to hear this huge dog whining away just one room away.

Five minutes later, I get the text I was hoping for: “He’s quieted down already.”

The dog, a total stranger in a total stranger’s home, in a crate he’s never been in before, wasn’t carrying on like you’d expect a dog to do.  He’d bonded with me only because I’d fed and walked him a few times – and hugged him for probably his first time in a long time.  His worry about my departure was expected.  His recovery time from my departure was not.  Just that fact, that he was able to calm himself down and settle in while we were “not home” gave us both a huge sigh of relief.  Still, it’s a damned miracle.

___

I have a lot more bridges to cross over during this next decade of my life.  I am still on a fitness streak, but it’s not for anyone but myself.  I’m still dealing with some addictions I need to shake off.  I still have my debts to pay and money to worry about.  I’m still hoping to make progress in my job so that I can provide and even more stable living situation for Ray and our little menagerie of animals.  I’m still hoping to keep learning and growing and settling down more roots here in Oregon.  I’m still working on my commitment to Raymond and helping him achieve the goals he’s set for himself as well.  There’s a lot to accomplish.

Fuck it, though.  I ain’t scared.  I’m excited to see where it all goes!

One More Month

Well, it’s coming.That big-ass birthday I’ve been moaning about for the last five years. As of October 1, 2017, I will be a 40-year-old man.

It seem really, really appropriate to do a post in this section of my website, Fit by Forty, because so many of the things I’ve set out to accomplish by the age of two score have changed, adapted, and been altered from where I started out.

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Commitment

The past few weeks have been, well, transitional.  It all started with me going full time at the bus driving gig.  No, actually, it started after I got my first paycheck from having gone full-time at the bus driving gig.  Money, of course, can be the motivation for a great deal of change.

For weeks, we’d been really struggling with the current living situation, especially with having a roommate.  Just little things, like housework, like the sounds of someone else in a space that we have to share, like the expanse of our lives coming up against the walls of our current reality, all started to pile up.  One little thing after another, really.  We’d constantly talked about the kind of life we wanted to have – and the kind of home we’d like to build together – but our finances had always stymied us, not to mention the insanity that is the housing market here in Portland.  We wanted a change, but really saw no way forward in the immediate future.

Then, of course, the money started coming in.

Then, of course, my mind started to ramp up in it’s imaginations.

I have had it in my head that I want to buy a piece of land, preferably with a farmhouse on it.  I wanted a little spot of my very own that I could do with as I please.  I wanted to be a steward to the life upon that soil, and create a space that was a tiny microcosm of what could happen if a person didn’t see the dirt and creatures living on it as only a means for income.  Yeah, pipe dreams like that happen when you’re as much of a dirty hippie as I can be, really.  So, I started looking.  I hit up the land-for-sale websites, scoured the real estate pages, and even found myself daydreaming about a couple of choice spots that might suit me, might suit us.  Before I could make a move though, I needed to see where I stood at the bank.

Well, everything was fine and dandy at the bank, that is, until the question of my student loans was broached.  Turns out, of course, that my investment in my education – all $157,000 of it – was a detriment to my ability to afford a home.  And, of course, this wouldn’t have been a factor had I been seeking to purchase something before the crash of 2008.  Back then, it was assumed that I’d managed my student loans through the proper channels, placing my housing costs at the top of the pile of bills, which is the only way I’ve ever dealt with my student loans, to be honest, but because so many people got into homes and neglected to also consider how to manage their student loan debt in the process, it all came tumbling down and left the banks on the hook for mortgages that had gone belly-up.  So, in the end, student loan debt is now a factor in qualifying for a home loan, and because of my debt load, and the income I’m making, I’m not qualified.  Not yet, at least.

Still, Ray and I wanted a new spot, so gears shifted, and wheels turned even more.

I started looking at the rentals in our town, and had to take about a week or so to deal with the sticker shock.  $1500/month for something akin to a run-down box was not unheard of.  Or, that kind of money came with a ton of caveats.  I knew Ray and I were really interested in finding a pet, so finding a space that allowed for pets was on the top of the list.  If we can’t have land and a small farm, the least we could get was a dog and/or cat, right?  Page after page after page of listings that offered such things as “easy access to public transport” but no actual parking for our vehicles, or “cats only/no dogs,” or “You’re asking me to pay $2000/mo for what???” kept being my experience.  It was frustrating, to put it mildly.

Also, it should be noted, that I really struggled with the idea of accepting that any space we were going to get was at a price that displaced someone else.  Especially knowing that that same space five years ago was much more affordable.

Still, I kept looking, and eventually, I found something that was doable.

$1245/mo, one bedroom, established community (not a new construction), a good deal of room in the unit, and very pet friendly.  It was also only about a mile away from where we currently live, so not much change with regards to commute time or access to the stores and places we’ve become accustomed to.

Ray and I went and looked at the place, and that day, made the move.  We put down a small deposit to hold the space, and just like that, we’ve begun the process of moving into our own apartment.  Just like that, our relationship has taken a leap forward, and now, as I’m typing this, I’m about a week out from getting the keys and starting the actual process of resettling.

___

I’m not going to lie – I’m nervous as hell about all of this.  I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I can actually afford a space like this, at this cost.  Memories of carrying the rent on a spot that Nathaniel and I rented in Boston back in 2009 ($1100/mo, in the North End), have been flooding back, and the level of anxiety surrounding that much commitment is a reality.  Still, as I constantly check my budget worksheet, all the numbers say, yes, in fact, I can do this.  I can afford the rent, to feed myself, and keep all of my other bills paid up in full, and still stash money away.  I’ve never trusted math (or my ability to do it), but there it is, in black and white, to remind me.

Ray and I have started the process of furniture shopping, getting a feeling for what each other likes and doesn’t like with regards to design.  Some things we agree on, a lot we don’t, so we’ll have to find compromise.  The fact is, Ray already owns a one-bedroom-apartment’s about of stuff, so I won’t be starting from absolute zero.  Still, I want to have a little say-so in what kinds of things we have in our home.  Like the bed.  Like the sofa.  Like the bookshelves.  We’re figuring it out.

We’ve also started the process of finding a pet, and it seems everywhere we look, there’s some gorgeous and lovely creature who would fit really well into our home.  It may be a while yet, as we get settled into our new space and figure out new patterns and rhythms, before we adopt a four-legged friend, but crossing that bridge is also happening.  It’s a lot to take in, really, and I need to keep pinching myself about it, especially given where I was in my life not very long ago at all.

I still remember the feeling of being trapped in an awful back room of a house I didn’t belong in anymore, jobless, penniless, and starving.  I *know* I’m not there anymore, but the idea of all of this newness crashing down around me is still present.  It’ll take time, patience, and trust, but I can get used to this.  I know I can.

In a week’s time, I’ll have a new home, in my name.  I’ll be providing space for us, and not having to rely on Raymond for a roof over my head.  I’ll also be able to give him the fiscal room to get his career moving forward and make the changes necessary to facilitate his own growth and development.  He’s not used to having someone be generous to him like this, and I fully understand and appreciate that about him.  I’m trying to do things that aren’t overt so that he still feels like he’s both contributing equitably to our life, but also doesn’t have to carry the anxiety that comes with monetary commitments.  He’s been held back in his life because of his fiscal obligations, and I want to ease that burden for him in any way I can.  At last, with this new move, I feel like I can start to do that.

Stay tuned for plenty of photos as we make this mighty leap!

28 Days Later

No, not the movie.

I’ve just recently crossed the 28-day mark with regards to my old smoking habit.  It’s a thing of my past.  Well, the actual putting of a cigarette to my lips is.  The nicotine, currently delivered to my body by means of a patch on my upper arm, remains a thing for me still, but I’m on the verge of stepping down from that as well.

This morning, after being awake for a few hours and messing around on my laptop, playing Civilization V actually, I found myself with a headache.  I started getting twitchy in my chair, restless for something.  I took myself out for a coffee, and it wasn’t until the walk back, where I stopped for a second and caught myself staring longingly at a discarded half-cigarette on the ground, that the reason for my headache became clear.  The patches I am using are good for 24 hours.  I hadn’t changed my patch in nearly 30 hours.  What I was experiencing was, in fact, a nicotine craving, but I didn’t actually identify it as such for quite some time.  It wasn’t that I was acting out, or that I felt myself going mad.  It was more like this nagging need for something…something was not quite right.  Once I got home and swapped out the patch, after a few minutes, my teeth unclenched, my headache lifted, and I was feeling right as rain again.

I still have that chemical dependency to break.  I’m also dealing with some pretty hefty chest congestion and heaviness in my thoracic region.  Shortness of breath is not something I’m used to – but from what I’ve read on line, it feels like asthma, or a nondescript weight sitting right on my chest.  This is a common side effect of quitting smoking, and may take quite some time for it to lift, but lift it will.  I need to keep up on my hydration, and when I can, exercise.  I am also thinking of getting a few hours in a steam room somewhere here in town, preferably with some eucalyptus or menthol in the air.  Whatever it takes, I’m game.

Ray, for his part, is super proud of me for doing this.  All along, he’s been irritated by the fact I was smoking.  It became a block between us and something he felt like he had to just deal with, rather than put his foot down about.  Now, though, he reaches over and holds my hand, tells me how happy my not smoking makes him, and a barrier that I wasn’t aware of between us has shifted, falling away.  I do blame him for inspiring this change in me, and I’m so thankful for it.

Twenty-eight days in, my life has improved a lot.  I’m not out of money all the time.  I don’t stink.  I don’t have to sneak off and miss out on some pieces of time spent with Ray or with any of my friends – most of whom don’t smoke either.  I’m not angry at work, craving that next break, that next moment off the bus.  I’m not as short with people (I’m still a curmudgeon, though, let it be known).  I’m feeling more balanced, more in tune with my body.  I now have a little checklist I go through when I’m feeling off – tired/thirsty/hungry?  To be honest, I can’t believe I took all of those vital things as a sign just to smoke.  How much did I deprive myself of sleep, or food, or even just water?  Why would anyone be that awful to themselves?  I think, perhaps, I’ve also turned a strong emotional growth corner in my life.  I don’t hate my body as much.  I don’t despise the skin I’m in as much.

I can finally and completely smell the season around me – Autumn, my favorite time of year.  It hit me today, actually, as I was out on a walk, that I hadn’t really smelled the rot of leaves and the dampness in the air that always comes with fall, in a very,very long time.  I appreciate the smell of hot apple cider.  I can smell the rain again.  Today, on my walk, this realization made me well up with tears.  I missed this more than I realized.

 

Another Step

As of July 1, 2015, I will no longer be living where I currently am.

Since the beginning of last year, I’ve been renting a room from Bil and Brandon, a couple who I got to know in my early days here in Portland.  Bil and I had become connected in Denver, and went hiking and hung out a few times, prior to my departure from there to here, and then their subsequent move to Portland shortly after.  When things blew up between Caleb and myself, and I was stuck in a precarious living situation, Bil and Brandon opened up their home to me for a very reasonable rental rate, and gave me shelter and a place to call home while I got back on my feet and began my job as a bus operator.  Immediately following my move-in, I met Raymond, and for the last year and a half, I’ve been splitting my time between the place with all of my stuff and at Raymond’s house. It has been a truly wonderful period in my life, with lots of personal growth, a better understanding of what it means to be in love with another man, and lots of roots have been planted here in Portland.  Due to circumstances out of their control for the boys, and the shift in plans about turning their basement into a full-fledged apartment for me to rent, the time has come for me to find another place to hang my hat.

Raymond, being the angel that he is, immediately told me, upon my need to shift addresses, “We will figure it out.”  What I didn’t know was that, also immediately, he had sent word to his current roommate that I was looking for a new address, and that if I moved in with them for a while, we could all save money and find a larger place to share in the very near future.  The two of them are currently not on a lease, and are living month-to-month where they are.  While it’s a little apartment with almost no back yard or an allowance for pets such as the dog we both want, it does have a proximity to the MAX line and major bus lines that is super convenient.  Having spent a great deal of time there, I’ve come to learn the quirks of their apartment, including the way that the neighbors are, what his roommate is like, and their living habits.  While it’s not ideal, as the space will be tight, I accepted their offer to come live with them.

For the first time, in a long time, I am going to be living with my boyfriend.

For the last month or so, while I’ve been wrapping my head around this upcoming movement, I’ve been paying particular attention to Raymond’s emotional status about it all.  He’s never lived with a boyfriend before.  He doesn’t know what it’s going to be like having his beau in his bed every night.  Already I’m aware that I’ll need to be vigilant about giving him his own space and time, even within the small confines of what will be our little home.  I’m worried about being a burden on him, and that we will have some inevitable friction from time to time because of the space.  Given our track record, though – only one major fight in the year and a half we’ve been together – I think we will be able to manage.  As long as he’s honest with me about how he’s feeling, and I am reciprocating, we should be okay.  I mean, who knows, it could work out really, really well.

I’m also really apprehensive because of my past.  Once again, my past experiences are dictating my emotions about a current situation, and I need to recognize that.  I gave up my life and lived with Thomas.  I gave up my life and lived with Nathaniel.  I’ve always been a roommate, and only very infrequently lived on my own. I was a roommate in Lakewood, CO.  I was a roommate in Denver, CO.  I was a live-in lover and houseboy when I first moved here to Portland, OR.  I have been a housemate in a tiny two-bedroom home for the last year and a half.  Now, I’m going to be, once again, sharing space with two other people.  While I’m very okay with being a roommate, I’m also keenly aware that this is not how a typical 37-year-old lives.  I mean, maybe it’s the new age and new economy that we are in, but at this point, I should have at least my own apartment, my own set of keys, my own utility bills.  Because of circumstance and life choices, though, I do not have these things, and I’ve been trying to find a way to resolve these emotions inside myself.

I’ve also been deeply worried about my past repeating itself in terms of relationships going awry when we live together.  This has happened every time I’ve lived with the man who held my heart, and I do not want it to happen with Raymond.  I need to be reminded that my past is not my present or future, and a recent adventure that he and I took helped to underscore this for me.

This past week, Ray and I flew back to Denver together.  I had wanted to take him on a trip to the Mile High City with me after we got back from Hawaii last January.  I wanted to show him my old haunts and introduce him to some of my old friends up there.  We ended up staying with my friend Amanda, a dear friend of mine that I’ve known for nearly thirty years.  She is my age, and while our paths have been shared quite a few times over the course of three decades, she seemingly has her life more together than I do.  She has a home of her own.  She has a decent credit score.  She owns her car.  She has a stable, normal, adult life, with stable, normal, adult issues (though she’d never attest to that fact).  I am envious of her for these things, and while she sees what Ray and I have as relationship goals for herself, I see her life and her world and think that, perhaps, I truly am a mess and need to get myself together and grow up along those same lines.

It was good to show him where I had lived, and the places that I had hung out when I lived in Denver.  Truth be told, I kept peeking around corners to see if I’d run into any old ghosts, old emotions, and old regrets while we were there.  I had been thinner, a little more crazy, and a lot more loose and fast with myself and the fellas I’d hung out with when I lived there.  At that point in my life,  I was still very much running from my past.  I’d slingshot myself into Denver in a mad and furious drive across the country from Maine, trying to escape the depression and anxiety that my life back there had dealt me.  I was not facing down the darkness of my early gay years.  I was not facing the implosion that my marriage to Nathaniel had become.  I was not facing the fears of growing older, of being in control of my life, or of taking responsibility for my actions.  I simply kept running.  Denver, with its explosive nighttime thunderstorms, dry and oppressive heat, and hundreds of miles of mountain trails to disappear on, gave me ample spaces and corners to avoid being Thomas as much as I wanted to.

I didn’t really run into any of the shadows that I was expecting on this last trip.  What I did find, however, was a group of friends and acquaintances that I’d drawn close to in my time in Denver who not only were very happy to see me again, but were also quick to point out just how happy I was.  They all loved Ray, as I thought they might, but what truly stuck with me was how much they simply wanted to know I was okay.  I was moved by their excitement for us, especially when we talked about this upcoming shared living experience.  Every single one of my friends who I got to see were genuinely happy for me, and thought that Ray and I made a really great couple.  I found myself full of pride in both Raymond and my decision to let him into my life.

It was also exponentially clear to me just how much I’d changed since I’d left Denver.  I have grown up, and I have come into myself in ways that I would have never thought possible when I was there.  Portland has been transformative for me, and continues to be.  While I am still a little apprehensive about this next step that Ray and I are taking, I do remain optimistic.  I’ve learned how to speak with a truth and power that I’ve never had before now.  I am thankful and full of gratitude in ways that resonate deep within me.  I remain humbled and awestruck by the ways that this relationship with Raymond keeps redefining what it means to be in Love.

Changing

The past two weeks have been dedicated to changing.

One of the biggest challenges and things I need to address in my life is my smoking habit.  I have tried time and again to quit these things, and it’s been something that has always been a thorn in my side – well, at least since I was fifteen years old.  I’ve already waxed on and on in the past about the reasons why I need to quit.  I know them all, and I’ve shared them here many, many times.  The truth remains, though, I still have an addiction to nicotine, and it’s power over me has to stop.

Since the first of May, I’ve cut way, way back on the amount of smoking I do.  I started, full guns blazing, by quitting cold turkey.  This was not only a matter of desire – I woke up two Mondays ago and said to myself that enough was enough – it’s become a health necessity. Heaviness in my chest, along with the lingering smell and feeling like a pariah have driven me to this point.  

I made it about three days before I broke down and asked a coworker for a smoke, which he happily gave me.  In the time since then, though, I’ve had roughly half a pack of cigarettes over the course of two weeks, which is down from my typical ten a day.  I’ve also been dealing with the physical side effects of coming off nicotine – the cravings are only the start.  Tension, constipation, headaches are also factors.  What I wasn’t expecting, and what I didn’t realize, was the emotional side effects of this addiction also are huge factors in quitting.  Since I’ve cut way, way back (to the point where I’m really on the verge of being done all together), I’ve been stuck in an emotional rut.  I find myself defensive, depressed, and irritable to be around as well.  Ray, bless him, has born the brunt of some of this, but I’ve done all I can to keep it contained.  I need this habit over with, and I need it over with now.  It’s coming.

The other thing that’s coming, as part of my breaking of this habit, is the decision I made two days ago about my fitness plan and exercise regime.  I’ve been going to the gym twice a week now for about four months.  In that time, I’ve experienced a weight gain that puts me back where I was when I first arrived in Portland – about thirty pounds more than I should be – some of it in muscle, I know, but also a good deal of pudge over that muscle.  Living here in this house has afforded me a diet that allows for excess, and as a shift from where I was prior to moving here, with a very limited availability of food simply because I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford to purchase much, my waist line has expanded slightly, and my clothes no longer fit as I would like them to.  I know that my efforts at the gym have been good.  I have arms and legs unlike I’ve ever had before.  I have a chest that, beneath the softness, is more defined and in better shape than ever.  Still, I haven’t quite gotten to where I want to be, and I think I’ve found a way to change all of that.

I haven’t really gone running since moving here to this new house. I’ve not had the desire, energy, or drive to run like I did late last year. When I was running, it was for very different reasons than I originally thought.  It was a coping mechanism.  It was how I squelched anxiety.  It was how I kept control of my life when everything else seemed to be collapsing around me.  The stress of being jobless, and stuck in a space that was no longer my home, and the tattered edges of a failed relationship all around me, running away from it all for just an hour or so every other day kept the darkness in check.

Now, though, that darkness has gone.  I’m in a new home.  I have a decent job.  I have managed to meet one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever had the chance to fall in love with and truly begin the process of sharing my life with. I have so much going for me since the turn of the year, but as is the way I approach life, I’m not quite satisfied.  I still hunger for a bit more growth and development.  For me, this appetite for new experiences and new challenges is at the heart of what life is all about.  I never want to stop learning and doing and growing as a person, which is why I’ve decided to take up something I’ve always denounced and thought impossible in my life.

Starting on Monday, I’m beginning a new series of runs that will eventually lead up to my completion of a marathon.  This is going to be a monumental chore for me, with lots of effort, lots of dedication, and lots of moments of despair and frustration.  Still, every time I’ve seen friends and contacts take up this challenge for themselves, or whenever I see a pack of people out there running for a cause, I have always felt like I needed to join them.  I do love running.  I like the way it clears my mind.  I like the way it shapes my body.  I like the feeling of motion and movement to offset the times when all I do is sit and remain still.

Running will also help me get over the hump with regards to my smoking habit.  It will also, as I’ve learned in the past, help me deal with confidence and self-esteem issues.  It will help me cope with the tension, depression, and physical side effects of cutting nicotine out of my life.  It will inform my writing.  It will challenge me to love myself a little bit more than I currently do.  Most importantly, if I can actually achieve this goal, it will be something of a life-time achievement for me, especially since I have always been the fat kid on the end of the roster, the one never chosen, the one who always came in physically last.  Yes, I am trying to prove to myself what I’m capable of.  Yes, I’m trying to shatter this old, horrible image I have of myself.  Yes, each footfall will be one more sword-swipe at the demons that have chased me for far too long.

Thomas Palmer: writer, teacher, marathon runner.

 

This Isn’t the First Time

This isn’t the first time I’ve been unemployed.  This isn’t the first time that my mortal soul has been beaten down by the pressure of feeling devalued and dehumanized.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had to dig deep inside me to find the strength, optimism, and hope that seem to buoy me as I navigate the world of job apps, monster.com, rejections, waiting, and the never hearing back.  Follow-up is an HR skill that I wish was better put to use in our world.  Even if it’s just to say no, we’re not interested in your resume.  I’d rather get the rejection than have to spend hours going from a hopeful sendoff of yet another application to the internal death-spiral of doubt and self-loathing that happens every single time.

Yesterday was no exception to a down day.  It was one in a string of hopeful beginnings, anxious afternoons, and disaffected evenings.  At one point, Caleb pulled me aside and told me to take a break.  He insisted that I’d done enough head-bashing for one day, and that I needed to pull away.  He was right, of course, but when I did break away from the eternal scrolling down of posts that I’m not qualified for, or are just not a good match to my skills, I went for a walk and had a good cry.  Well, a muffled, wet-cheeked, don’t-look-at-me kind of cry, but it still felt like a little pressure release.  I needed it.

I also reached out to a friend who is in a similar situation.  He insisted I tell him what was really on my mind, even though I am *loathe* to do that to someone I care about.  Still, I did – I sent him a nice long e-mail detailing just where I’m at in my head, and he very kindly, very sweetly, wrote a reply that made me feel a bit better.

Just like a good friend will do.

This morning, I talked some more with Caleb about an email response I got from a job I had applied for (!!!) and what it might mean if I take the post.  It would mean moving to a place I think I’d really, really like.  It would be a terrible rate of pay, but given how simply I can live – no frills living is what I do best – I could make it work.  Part-time with some perks that make it worth it, in a town near the sea.  Time to write, a bike ride away from work, and the salty Pacific Northwest air.  Access to planes, trains, and busses, and a vibrant college all within the city limits.  It could be good for me.  I could make it work.

It has given me a little spark of a better focus today.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to claw back from nothing, from chaos, and try to eek my way forward.  I will do this, and I will find my way, on my own.  I know what I’m doing, really.  I just need to trust in myself, find the patience and courage I need to get by for now, and not be so pig-headed when all I need to do is talk to someone.